D800E vs. 5D3: Diminishing Returns or Reversal of Returns?

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Rick Knepper
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D800E vs. 5D3: Diminishing Returns or Reversal of Returns?
9 months ago

Subtitle: Cropping, downsizing and other table scraps

This thread refers to a recent thread comparing the resolution of the D800E to the 5D3:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51783059

Additional images and comparisons below if you wish to skip the set-up.

This will be my take on the comparison. There was some lively conversations still active in original thread on the Canon forum and it was getting full so I didn’t want to use up the remaining “bandwidth” so I posted a separate thread. Though the discussion was quite limited on the Nikon forum I want to thank you all very much for your examples and commentary (even those fanbois of both brands who tried to discredit the comparison).

I was criticized for providing a down-sized version of the D800E file which I rectified later (not to mention the fact that I had provided the RAWs with the initial post from which anyone could do anything they wished with the files).

The criticism came mainly from those whose applications apparently call for enlargement. I mean, do we even need to see such a comparison? Can’t we just stipulate that more MPs will always help in Printing Large.

It is that other 95% of photographers and their applications (myself included) which involve reductions that need some special illumination. I am sure this percentage could be hotly debated but for example, 100% of my applications involve reductions.

My primary application: create 1800x1200 images for display on my NEC 2690 monitor. There are future applications I am consideing but I will save that discussion for the end of this post. 1800x1200 isn’t a typical web-sized image, it’s nearly as physically large as a 13x19 print when viewed on my monitor though the dimensions are significantly reduced from its originals. I don’t know what pixel pitch folks are viewing with or how DPI factors into how others view these files.

So, we know information is being thrown away as we down-size, but what is the point at which too much information has been thrown away? I read an estimate in one of the threads that a 2x reduction does not harm IQ. Back in the day, when I compared my newly acquired 5D2 (21 MP) to my 5D (12 MP), I was able to discern additional detail in the 5D2 capture when both RAWs were reduced to 1800x1200 without the overall IQ being harmed.

The burning question for me and anyone doing reductions particularly if they are thinking of upgrading from 21/24 MPs to 36 MPs is: is there a law of diminishing return at play for my specific application?I am on record in the past as having asked this question at least rhetorically, and it only cost me $3k to find out definitively.

The following images are the same images from the original post, only processed and down-sized to the aforementioned dimensions. I processed the images without thought to matching anything. I made processing choices that looked good to me for the given file as if I were processing it as a keeper. Bear in mind that I am processing these files primarily for display pn my uncalibrated monitor so comments regarding color will probably be irrelevant. We are here to discuss resolution.

5D3 downsized to 1800x1200

View: original size

D800E downsized to 1800x1200

View: original size

Is there a diminishing return for 1800x1200 images when stepping up to 36 MP captures from 21 MP captures? Or even a reversal of return? Simple math makes it clear the total reduction is larger for the 36 MP image in this particular case and much more information is being thrown away. What about visually? Information can be thrown away without making a visible impact. What is the ultimate reduction size of your application? Use the RAWs from the original post to find your own point of diminishing return.

What about cropping?

The following crops were executed as follows: Loaded both images in ACR and neutralized the settings for both images (all settings turned to zero). Made a crop in the 5D3 file of an area I wanted to feature, then synchronized that crop with the D800E (since the D800E crop ends up in a slightly different position, I manually re-positioned the crop by eye). The resulting file sizes were:

5D3 = 2697x1798

D800E = 3446x2297

I converted both RAWs to the highest quality jpeg along with a down-sizing to 1800x1200 (my personal target dimension).

5D3 cropped & downsized to 1800x1200

View: original size

D800E cropped & downsized to 1800x1200

View: original size

Some might criticize the methodology and some might criticize the extreme nature of the crop but I can assure everyone that no matter the conditions, comparing an equal crop from these two systems will produce visible differences unless the crops are very minor.

Based on this overall comparison (previous thread included), I believe the return on IQ may have been reversed slightly for my intended application. However, anyone that has made it through the higher grades of high school and/or a few years in college know that one test doesn't prove anything and I will continue to observe the differences since I use both brands. The answer for each individual is dependent on their own applications.The D800E images will stand up for the time being as long as I don't lean too close to the monitor.

Luckily for me and my investment in the D800E, I have near-future intentions to move to a larger editing and viewing display thereby reducing the reductions so to speak. I am also investigating the use of a 4k TV as a "picture frame" for my images. In 4k TV's infancy, there is already a 4k TV at Amazon selling for $1200.

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afterburn
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Re: D800E vs. 5D3: Diminishing Returns or Reversal of Returns?
In reply to Rick Knepper, 9 months ago

No opinion one way or the other at the moment, but you did see the 5D images appear to have slightly higher contrast (despite you normalizing in ACR) and that increased contrast can appear as having increased detail?

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Gijs from The Netherlands
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rondhamalam
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Why want to reduce to 1800x1200 as default
In reply to Rick Knepper, 9 months ago

My preference is to have full scale as DEFAULT.

From there you have the freedom to crop or reduce or even enlarge.

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elliotn
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Re: D800E vs. 5D3: Diminishing Returns or Reversal of Returns?
In reply to Rick Knepper, 9 months ago

Just as it's obvious that the higher megapixel D800 will capture more fine detail than the 5D3, so too is it obvious that the cameras will become indistinguishable when massively downsized to 1200 x 1800px.

Buying both a D800E and 5D3 to shoot small jpegs seems like a massive waste of money. An entry-level Nikon or Canon DSLR would do the job just fine.

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Dave Luttmann
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Too many of these......
In reply to Rick Knepper, 9 months ago

It seems there have been a lot of threads lately trying to show the 5D3 has the same resolving power as the D800.  Not sure why....the D800 holds a 28% linear resolution advantage that is easily seen when good optics are used.  It equates to one extra print size....say 20x30 over 16x24 for the 5D3.

When I made my purchase decision to go with the Nikon over the Canon, I just cropped a 12x18 out of a 20x30 print and made my decision.  It was obvious in print the D800 had more resolving power.  We wont even mention the difference in DR.

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keithmatts
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Re: D800E vs. 5D3: Diminishing Returns or Reversal of Returns?
In reply to elliotn, 9 months ago

The previous post says it all for me. Anyone who knows that they will be converting virtually all their images to a small size does not need to worry about which FX brand of camera will result in best small jpg. There are plenty of less costly cameras that will do the job to a very high standard. And, the difference between best and second best appears so small as to be inconsequential. The last person to see the final image in it's perfectly processed state, of whatever size, will be the one processing it on his computer. If the monitor is precisely calibrated for color, brightness, and contrast he will be the only one to see it in its "pure" form. Everyone else will see the version on whatever monitor or TV the may view it.

It is interesting, to me anyway, that all this testing and comparing is being devoted to which big hi res camera makes the best small pictures. For a couple of decades in the rapidly changing digital camera world all the talk has been about which camera makes the best large images. And, why would I give up the best quality large prints of the D800 in favor of a lower resolution camera just so I can get better small images from it?

Keith

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yray
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Re: D800E vs. 5D3: Diminishing Returns or Reversal of Returns?
In reply to afterburn, 9 months ago

afterburn wrote:

No opinion one way or the other at the moment, but you did see the 5D images appear to have slightly higher contrast (despite you normalizing in ACR) and that increased contrast can appear as having increased detail?

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Gijs from The Netherlands
Nikon D800

Very true. Perceptually, an image with higher microcontrast will appear sharper than a perfectly sharp image with more low level detail but less microcontrast. The D800 image in this example appears washed out even though I believe that at the pixel level it contains more fine detail. So I don't think D800 produced a better image viewed as a whole image, not pixel-peeping at 100%, but this might be just this particular shot OP chose as an example.

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t.c. marino
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Re: Too many of these......
In reply to Dave Luttmann, 9 months ago

Dave Luttmann wrote:

It seems there have been a lot of threads lately trying to show the 5D3 has the same resolving power as the D800. Not sure why....the D800 holds a 28% linear resolution advantage that is easily seen when good optics are used. It equates to one extra print size....say 20x30 over 16x24 for the 5D3.

When I made my purchase decision to go with the Nikon over the Canon, I just cropped a 12x18 out of a 20x30 print and made my decision. It was obvious in print the D800 had more resolving power. We wont even mention the difference in DR.

time to move on rich...the "canonotes"are obsessed with d800 and it's high res sensor..test after test trying to prove that there is no difference in resolution.5d3 is great camera..and it gets beat by d800 for greater resolution--
nikonshooter

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T O Shooter
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Re: Too many of these...... Agreed!
In reply to t.c. marino, 9 months ago

t.c. marino wrote:

Dave Luttmann wrote:

It seems there have been a lot of threads lately trying to show the 5D3 has the same resolving power as the D800. Not sure why....the D800 holds a 28% linear resolution advantage that is easily seen when good optics are used. It equates to one extra print size....say 20x30 over 16x24 for the 5D3.

When I made my purchase decision to go with the Nikon over the Canon, I just cropped a 12x18 out of a 20x30 print and made my decision. It was obvious in print the D800 had more resolving power. We wont even mention the difference in DR.

time to move on rich...the "canonotes"are obsessed with d800 and it's high res sensor..test after test trying to prove that there is no difference in resolution.5d3 is great camera..and it gets beat by d800 for greater resolution--
nikonshooter

I don't get the point.  The D800 is a great resolving body with great DR. I'm sure the Canon is too.  A body for the Nikon fellows and one for the Canon guys.  It should only be the fellows with certain parameters that care at all.  A Canon shooter putting out very large prints might want to throw a glance at an 800e. A Nikon shooter might throw a glance the other way if the MKIII excels in some way that is critical to his photography. Most of us are not on that extreme edge of what these bodies are capable of that it matters. Take my D4 or D800 and give me the Canon and I'm sure I'd adapt

Or in other words, so what and why bother?

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Rick Knepper
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Re: D800E vs. 5D3: Diminishing Returns or Reversal of Returns?
In reply to yray, 9 months ago

yray wrote:

afterburn wrote:

No opinion one way or the other at the moment, but you did see the 5D images appear to have slightly higher contrast (despite you normalizing in ACR) and that increased contrast can appear as having increased detail?

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Gijs from The Netherlands
Nikon D800

Very true. Perceptually, an image with higher microcontrast will appear sharper than a perfectly sharp image with more low level detail but less microcontrast. The D800 image in this example appears washed out even though I believe that at the pixel level it contains more fine detail. So I don't think D800 produced a better image viewed as a whole image, not pixel-peeping at 100%, but this might be just this particular shot OP chose as an example.

The difference in contrast is a good observation. I've shot the 5D2 and D3x alongside each other for 2 1/2 years and this dfifference seems to be a common characteristic of the two systems. Now with the 5D3 and D800E, it's same thing.

I chalked it up to the difference in DR of the two systems. When a scene has a large area of shadow, this contrast you see which is really a darker black ain't no fun to hassle with in the Canon files.

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Rick Knepper
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Re: Why want to reduce to 1800x1200 as default
In reply to rondhamalam, 9 months ago

It's not a default. It's the final, intended image dimensions. Perhaps I am misunderstanding you.

To explain why I reduce the way I do: I start the down-sizng process during the RAW conversion because I am of the mind that a down-sizing here in RAW leads to less artifacts overall. I could be wrong though I don't think a change in the workflow for this leg of the processing would affect the overall outcome enough to say that my process screws the pooch.

I down-size according to a sharpening routine I adopted from a thread on FM that involves starting with an image 1.66 larger than the final image's dimensions. So, at conversion, I down-size to 2988x1992 which is 1.66x of 1800x1200. During the sharpening routine, the 2988x1992 image eventually gets reduced to 1800x1200.

My default is the RAW (right or wrong).

Here's the thread on the sharpening routine:

http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/726816/0

Other than a mild shot of sharpening in ACR for capture sharpening, I always sharpen my images at the dimensions I intend to use (and at 1.66 times the image as well).

This process is one of a thousand different ways and reasons for reducing the image.

rondhamalam wrote:

My preference is to have full scale as DEFAULT.

From there you have the freedom to crop or reduce or even enlarge.

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TOF guy
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Re: D800E vs. 5D3: Diminishing Returns or Reversal of Returns?
In reply to yray, 9 months ago

yray wrote:

. The D800 image in this example appears washed out even though I believe that at the pixel level it contains more fine detail.

That's because different curves were used for the images. It has nothing to do with "fine details" and "micro-contrast".

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Rick Knepper
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Re: D800E vs. 5D3: Diminishing Returns or Reversal of Returns?
In reply to TOF guy, 9 months ago

TOF guy wrote:

yray wrote:

. The D800 image in this example appears washed out even though I believe that at the pixel level it contains more fine detail.

That's because different curves were used for the images. It has nothing to do with "fine details" and "micro-contrast".

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Thierry - posted as regular forum member

While that is true for the first set, it is not true of the 2nd set.

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Rick Knepper
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In reply to keithmatts, 9 months ago

You have no clue what you are talking about. You didn't read the OP. You are assigning intent to my post that just isn't there.

You and the previous poster have no idea what FF or FX is all about if you think it is about a gazillion pixels. Jeez.

keithmatts wrote:

The previous post says it all for me. Anyone who knows that they will be converting virtually all their images to a small size does not need to worry about which FX brand of camera will result in best small jpg. There are plenty of less costly cameras that will do the job to a very high standard. And, the difference between best and second best appears so small as to be inconsequential. The last person to see the final image in it's perfectly processed state, of whatever size, will be the one processing it on his computer. If the monitor is precisely calibrated for color, brightness, and contrast he will be the only one to see it in its "pure" form. Everyone else will see the version on whatever monitor or TV the may view it.

It is interesting, to me anyway, that all this testing and comparing is being devoted to which big hi res camera makes the best small pictures. For a couple of decades in the rapidly changing digital camera world all the talk has been about which camera makes the best large images. And, why would I give up the best quality large prints of the D800 in favor of a lower resolution camera just so I can get better small images from it?

Keith

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TOF guy
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In reply to Rick Knepper, 9 months ago

The images are not processed the same. The foliage in the D800 image is clearly brighter while it is more in the mid tones in the 5d3 image. Which mean that the D800 foliage ends up where the gamma curve is less steep - making details harder to discern - and where human visions requires larger differences to get the same impression of details (Weber's law ). Foliage is pretty much devoid of fine details - but it has with a lot of subtle differences in greens in particular because the leaves are not uniformly illuminated. The foliage looses its 3D aspects if these differences are washed out as it is the case here in the D800 image due to poor image processing.

So the 1st step is to normalize levels. The exposure may not be the same (differences in camera settings or true ISO values ?) and / or curves need to be applied

There are some more subtle differences. A breeze is creating wavelets in part of the water surface in the 5D3 image, but other parts of the water surface are still and the trees reflections are sharp. The wavelets also contributes to make the scene less monotonous. By contrast there is not a clear indication of wind on the D800 image, no wavelets on the surface, but the water surface must be moving where the tree reflections are because these reflections are blurred. This gives the false impression that the D800 may not capture the details in the reflections because there is no obvious clue in that shot that the wind is blowing (we know it from the 5d3 image).

Even if everything were equal this is not a good scene to compare how details fare after downsizing. For this purpose you need a picture with lots of finer details.

But thank you for sharing the images and starting a good discussion.

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Re: D800E vs. 5D3: Diminishing Returns or Reversal of Returns?
In reply to Rick Knepper, 9 months ago

Rick Knepper wrote:

TOF guy wrote:

yray wrote:

. The D800 image in this example appears washed out even though I believe that at the pixel level it contains more fine detail.

That's because different curves were used for the images. It has nothing to do with "fine details" and "micro-contrast".

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Thierry - posted as regular forum member

While that is true for the first set, it is not true of the 2nd set.

It is true for both images.

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Re: Too many of these......
In reply to Dave Luttmann, 9 months ago

Dave Luttmann wrote:

It seems there have been a lot of threads lately trying to show the 5D3 has the same resolving power as the D800. Not sure why....

Resolution envy, maybe? I also don't get the time spent on these comparisons - some folks must have alot free time, but to each his own/whatever floats your boat!

Look - we  get it: for the small size that most people view and print at, high MP is not a factor and a 6-8 MP camera would be fine. Both the 5D3 and D800 are fine cameras, but not comparable in many ways - each has it's strengths and weaknesses and folks should just accept that (imho). Though somehow I feel we'll get a different spin from certain people on the new-found value of higher resolution when a high MP Canon eventually arrives 

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My comparison was not about the 5D3 per se.
In reply to Dave Luttmann, 9 months ago

Dave Luttmann wrote:

It seems there have been a lot of threads lately trying to show the 5D3 has the same resolving power as the D800.

You have access to the RAWs. Prove whatever it is that you want to prove but don't assign false meaning to my post.

Not sure why....the D800 holds a 28% linear resolution advantage that is easily seen when good optics are used.

Has anyone seen the possibility of a focus error in the optics used for my comparison?

It equates to one extra print size....say 20x30 over 16x24 for the 5D3.

I don't know about the numbers you state above but I would agree wholeheartedly with the spirit of your assertion for the full-size images or even images reduced. All I am saying is that there could be a diminishing return at play here.

When I made my purchase decision to go with the Nikon over the Canon, I just cropped a 12x18 out of a 20x30 print and made my decision.

As I said in my OP, the D800E images are fine if not viewed too closely.

It was obvious in print the D800 had more resolving power. We wont even mention the difference in DR.

My comparison was not about the 5D3 per se. It was strictly about resolution.

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Re: D800E vs. 5D3: Diminishing Returns or Reversal of Returns?
In reply to TOF guy, 9 months ago

TOF guy wrote:

Rick Knepper wrote:

TOF guy wrote:

yray wrote:

. The D800 image in this example appears washed out even though I believe that at the pixel level it contains more fine detail.

That's because different curves were used for the images. It has nothing to do with "fine details" and "micro-contrast".

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Thierry - posted as regular forum member

While that is true for the first set, it is not true of the 2nd set.

It is true for both images.

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Thierry - posted as regular forum member

I don't know what you are saying. Please elaborate. By the way, there are sets of images with four images overall.

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In reply to jjnik, 9 months ago

jjnik wrote:

Dave Luttmann wrote:

It seems there have been a lot of threads lately trying to show the 5D3 has the same resolving power as the D800. Not sure why....

Resolution envy, maybe? I also don't get the time spent on these comparisons - some folks must have alot free time, but to each his own/whatever floats your boat!

Look - we get it: for the small size that most people view and print at, high MP is not a factor and a 6-8 MP camera would be fine. Both the 5D3 and D800 are fine cameras, but not comparable in many ways - each has it's strengths and weaknesses and folks should just accept that (imho). Though somehow I feel we'll get a different spin from certain people on the new-found value of higher resolution when a high MP Canon eventually arrives

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